Serendipity may be the best descriptor for the series of events leading to the partnership between Paul Sousa and David Gardiner when they purchased the Bear Bottom Country Store, now known as Fish Haven General Store, in 2020 then followed up that acquisition to consolidate control of Fish Haven’s entire retail establishment when they bought Gladys’ Place in the spring of 2021. Pandemic you say? Other than the burgeoning population of stay-at-home workers who began taking up residence overlooking Bear Lake, the recent economic downturn experienced elsewhere hasn’t caused the new partners much concern. The two never met before January 2020 when David saw the Bear Bottom Country Store in Fish Haven was for sale and asked the real estate agent if there was much interest. Months earlier, Paul had given it “a hard no” and was determined to keep looking for the right opportunity. David asked to meet Paul and the partnership took root when each decided the other was a pretty good guy. A handshake deal between the two followed.
Paul’s back story in retail an hour outside New York meshed well with David who had recently sold one business and was looking for a new venture. David’s sentimental history in Fish Haven won out. Forming Fish Haven General Store LLC, one could say the two somewhat impulsively jumped into business together, reverted to the store name David had known it by as a kid, Fish Haven General Store, cannily relocated signage to give north-bound drivers the necessary micro-seconds to slow and stop then upped the “wow” factor with giant metal sculptures. Paul encourages a closer look at the metal because the artist used some unusual and interesting items in the welding mix. The Fish Haven General Store retained employees, increased stock, captured attention and got an interior face lift. Paul and David were pleased with their investment while continuing to work long hours at attracting more customers and increasing sales. They were committed to growing with the community and knew they were in a great position moving forward.
Then they heard the Moore family was selling the competition, Gladys’ Place, a mere 100 yards away. Paul had visited Gladys’ a total of three times and one of those was when he wanted to compare it to the “other store” in town when he was thinking of buying it. Long story short, he and David bought it too. “Why not?” questioned Paul. “The opportunity was right to buy them both.” Over the years, Gladys’ Place became something of a landmark and is used to describe where to find such places as the Fish Haven Canyon so they kept the name. Over the weeks since the second purchase in June, 2021, most of the foodstuffs have moved to the Fish Haven General Store and Gladys’ Place retains the liquor, deli and ice cream. Pushing back on suppliers, Paul expects products delivered timely and in the quantity ordered. No “but the pandemic” excuses will do because he doesn’t like to say that to his own customers. When the hard ice cream supplier didn’t follow through, Paul switched. Now, Aggie Ice Cream awaits the next customer who knows how good an old-fashioned scoop can be on a hot afternoon.
Paul is on-site almost daily, uses the house at Gladys’ Place as his office and employee housing, and rushes between the two stores to handle the myriad problems that crop up with any new business . . . any TWO new businesses. He helps stock shelves, trains new employees, comes up with marketing ploys and is the local “face” for the partnership. David defers to Paul on day-to-day operations but has the local flavor at heart and supports the overall project as much as possible from his primary home in Salt Lake City. There are eleven employees between the two stores, some of whom drive to work from Georgetown, and another four employees would be great. The two men share a common goal to create a “mom and pop” vibe, feel it is important to preserve the small town atmosphere of Fish Haven and they have put their heads together to make it happen. Staying open in the winter, the establishments are not just for tourists so they’ll be back with traditions such as hamburgers from the grill on the 4th of July and they have plans for new activities to lend vitality to the area. Rather than sit back and lament the changes that will inevitably come to Bear Lake, they want to influence the changes coming and that includes taking advantage of the new trailhead on the Fish Haven Canyon when enough snow falls to bring snowmobilers back down the mountain from Beaver for a deli sandwich and a warm-up.
The overall volume has been pretty much what was expected since 2020’s initial purchase and the lottery does entice those folks from Utah to make a trip across the state line for the thrill of scratching to see a match appear or choosing numbers for the periodic multi-million dollar prize. Would Paul and David buy the stores and be partners again? “You bet,” Paul grinned. “You can lay odds on it.”